Graduate Student Merit Awards - 2022 Program Details



IDSA recognizes exceptional student design talent through our annual Student Merit Awards programs. The competition highlights the very best creativity, problem solving and design brilliance in each of IDSA's five North American Districts. 

The Graduate SMA (GSMA) competition consists of two separate rounds. Round 1 is conducted independently by the schools and determines a single Student Finalist for that school. Round 2 is conducted entirely online by IDSA and determines the five GSMA District Winners. One winner is selected from each District for this prestigious distinction.

GSMA winners (and the schools they represent) benefit from massive media exposure through IDSA's extensive reach and high-level industry recognition. These individuals receive an online profile, a print feature in INNOVATION magazine and special distinction at the annual International Design Conference. IDSA is proud to witness the incredible acceleration that winning an GSMA provides in the professional success of those who participate. 


Round 1:  Selecting a GSMA School Finalist

February 7 – April 8 

Educators at schools with an active IDSA Student Chapter and IDSA Faculty Advisor are encouraged to identify candidates who have demonstrated quality in their graduate-level work during their first year of graduate school. On a selected date, as arranged by the Faculty Advisor, students present their work (in-person or virtually) in front of an audience of peers and local-area professional designers (presentation length not to exceed 8 minutes). Judges, selected by the Faculty Advisor, review and score Graduate student presentations to determine a top student from each participating school. The GSMA Finalist is someone who demonstrates tremendous talent, breadth of skill, exceptional presentation ability, and who best embodies the industrial design graduate program they represent.

Round 2: Selecting a GSMA District Winner

April 13 – May 9 

GSMA Finalists enter into Round 2 by uploading project work to IDSA’s online awards platform for review by a committee of judges. The judging committee is made up of design educators and professionals who review all submissions and select winners based on the criteria: scope of work, quality of work, quality of thought, and visual presentation. Student finalists are evaluated against peers from other schools in their district. One GSMA Winner is selected from each of the (5) Districts for this prestigious distinction.



The GSMA program is free to enter and open to graduate students who finished their first year from a North American school with an active IDSA Student Chapter. 

Participating individuals must hold a current IDSA student membership. Visit to sign up. Student membership is $50 annually.

Graduate student candidates must have maintained at least a "B" grade average in all course work since entering the design program. The candidates must graduate by the end of 2022.

Only one GSMA Finalist per school may participate in Round 2 of the competition.

Round 1 – Finalist Selection

  • Round 1 begins February 7, 2022 and concludes on April 8, 2022.
  • The faculty advisor(s) selects student candidates who have maintained at least a "B" grade average in all course work since entering the design curriculum. The candidates must graduate by the end of 2022.
  • The faculty advisor(s) assembles a jury of at least three (3) professional designers from the surrounding community. These individuals should have demonstrated proficiency in their practice. These individuals should represent diverse gender and cultural backgrounds. These individuals do not need to be IDSA members, but membership is encouraged. These individuals should not be full or part-time faculty at the school.
  • On a set date (as determined by the school but before April 8, 2022), student candidates will present their work for the jury of professionals, their student peers and other attendees from the local IDSA community. This can be done as an in-person event or as a video conference via Zoom, Facetime, etc. due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • The student’s verbal and visual presentations should meet the following: 
    • Limited to 8 minutes in length start to finish
    • Should include images, graphics, video, etc. that detail project work in a professional and comprehensive way
    • Delivered live, in real-time … not prerecorded
  • An optional video recording all student candidate presentations is highly encouraged so this video may be included as part of the SMA Graduate Finalist submission.
  • Jurors must use THIS EVALUTION FORM to rate students in the areas of: scope of work, quality of work, quality of thought, visual presentation, and verbal presentation. 
  • The scores will determine the top candidate in that school. If the scores result in a tie, a discussion among jurors present will be conducted in order to choose that school’s GSMA Finalist. If needed, jurors are welcome to hold this discussion via video chat.
  • One student from each school is chosen as the GSMA Finalist.
  • By April 8, 2022, the faculty advisor will notify IDSA of their GSMA Finalist by submitting their finalist selection online at

Round 2 – District Winner Selection

  • Round 2 entry begins April 13, 2022 and concludes on May 09, 2022.
  • Only SMA Graduate Finalists may participate in Round 2. One SMA Finalist per school. 
  • SMA Graduate Finalists will continue to use IDSA’s online awards platform to complete their submission for review. Submissions will be comprised of:
    • Project Portfolio 
      • Detailing up to three (3) individual projects. PDF format, not to exceed 15 pages in length.
      • Your portfolio should address and display competency in the following areas: 
        • Your problem statement and design solution
        • Your research and synthesis
        • Design approach and process
        • Clearly define student role in group work
        • How your work takes risks, is unique and future-oriented
        • How your work can be implemented in practice/academia
        • How your work contributes to the body of knowledge of design
    • Project Images
      • Three (3) individual images that best represent the projects in your portfolio, one image per project
    • Verbal Statement
      • A three (3) minute video statement verbally addressing the following prompts:
        • How would you explain what a designer does to a 6-year-old and an 80-year-old? 
        • What did you learn in your program of study that shapes you as an industrial designer?
        • If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself related to your design education?
      • Additional Option: Video recording of your Round 1 school presentation 
    • Written Statement
      • Written responses to the following questions:
      • In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for designers?
      • What would you like to design to make a positive impact for society?
  • All Round 2 submissions need to be completed by May 09, 2022.

Prizes & Recognition

Each (school level) GSMA Finalist receives the following:

  • A profile in INNOVATION magazine’s Winter print issue.
  • Recognition on and social media with other GSMA and SMA Finalists.
  • A commemorative print certificate delivered at the conclusion of the competition.

Each (district level) GSMA Winner receives the following:

  • A profile in INNOVATION magazine’s Winter Education Review print issue.
  • Recognition on and social media with other GSMA and SMA District Winners.
  • A commemorative trophy presented by IDSA Education Director at the 2022 International Design Conference.
  • A complimentary 1-year Young Professional membership to IDSA.
  • A complimentary registration to attend and deliver the winning presentation on stage at the 2022 International Design Conference (travel not included).
  • A complimentary 1-year Premium Profile placement for their school on IDSA’s ID Schools online directory.

GSMA Judging Criteria

Round 1 Jurors must use THESE EVALUATION FORMS to make their scores and tabulate results in the selection of a SMA School Finalist.

Round 1 Jurors of each school must use the evaluation forms within this document to make their scores and tabulate results in the selection of a SMA Graduate School Finalist. Finally, jurors will submit their finalist selection into IDSA’s online SMA School Winner Form.

Round 2 Jurors of the IDSA Education Council will use the tools built into IDSA’s OpenWater online awards platform to rate students. The resulting scores will determine the top candidate in each District or top overall candidate. If the scores result in a tie, phone/video conference call discussion among District jurors will be conducted in order to choose the SMA Graduate Winner(s).


Scope of Work

The submitted portfolio of projects should demonstrate proficiency across multiple mediums, project categories and/or problem areas. The student should display an in-depth understanding of the entire design process and design research from start to finish; this should be reflected within the body of their work.

Quality of Work

The submitted portfolio of projects should demonstrate a high-level of proficiency in industrial design skills such as: user research, data analysis & synthesis, experiment design, ideation (sketching/rendering, form development, and prototyping), modeling (3D and physical), materials and/or manufacturing. The final solutions or presentations of process or ideas should be aesthetically fitting and exhibit appropriate balance between form and function.

Quality of Thought

The student should demonstrate in-depth and holistic understanding of a problem/opportunity scoping, design criteria and context, and the ability to connect research insights to design outcomes. The student is effective in making connections between their work and practice/academia and demonstrates thinking that contributes to advancing the design profession. This critical analysis should be reflected (and communicated) in their research and process, and/or final solution(s). The work should be forward thinking and unique.

Visual Presentation

The submitted materials should be clearly organized, well composed and visually compelling. The work should be representative of a cohesive collection and communicate an intelligible narrative throughout.

Verbal Presentation

The student should articulate their thoughts, work and process in a clear and succinct manner. Verbal statements should be delivered with a compelling narrative and demonstrate holistic understanding of the subject matter.